Writing for World Peace

Benjamin B. Ferencz

If “the pen is mightier than the sword,” the choice of weapons suggests that the adage is not of recent vintage. Not owning a quill, I turned to a typewriter, and went in search of an enemy carrying a sword. I suspected that I might face a better-armed and more formidable foe. Many observers derided my efforts by calling me “The Man of La Mancha.” I was not deterred, but rode forth, like Don Quixote, to fight the unbeatable foe with many books and countless legal articles. The greatest threats to world peace do not come from swords. “Wars,” we are told, “come from the minds of men.” The inability to reconcile deeply-held convictions is what drives nations and people to kill and be killed for their particular ideals. Those who boast that they are rational human beings should have learned that you cannot kill an idea with a gun. An idea can only be vanquished by a better idea. It dawned on me that it might be a good idea to produce some ideas that made more sense than the senseless killing that continues to mar the human landscape.

For twenty long years and more did I labor in the vineyard of speakers and seekers of peace. Being a Prophet of Peace is not very profitable, but the work is steady. While carrying on my efforts to save the world from self-destruction, it was also necessary somehow to save my family from starvation. I could not afford to allow my research and writing to impair my obligations to the few paying clients that still required my assistance. The small royalties earned by writing books could have inspired other authors of learned legal tomes to seek more lucrative employment, such as selling hamburgers at McDonalds. I resisted the temptation. Man does not live by hamburgers alone.

My 1975 book, Defining International Aggression, was well received and was honored as a “Best Academic Book.” It was followed up by a spate of law review articles expounding on the subject so that readers would not be obliged to buy the expensive two volumes. I never forgot that, during my student days, law books were often beyond my financial reach.

My writing for peace was interrupted when Professor Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University persuaded me to write a book about the efforts to obtain compensation from German industrialists who had exploited concentration camp inmates. My involvement in the legal and moral claims against the responsible German companies was unique. Professor Bauer’s plea to tell the whole story could not be turned down. Less Than Slaves, published by Harvard University Press in 1979, won several national prizes, was translated into German and Japanese, and was the basis for a German television production. It also called for a more humane world. To be sure, remembering the Holocaust is important, but preventing the repetition of similar horrors is even more important. My studies and writing on world peace were eagerly resumed.

My next two volumes, An International Criminal Court—A Step Toward World Peace, were published in 1980. In addition to the comprehensive narrative, it included copies of original documents and speeches made on the subject during the past century. It was an invaluable source book for serious scholars who had neither the time, ability, nor the inclination to bury themselves in the stacks below the United Nations. Copies of all of my books were donated to the UN Law library. I learned that Diplomats and Delegates are book-lovers—the UN librarian repeatedly asked me if I could provide additional copies, since those that had been on the shelf had mysteriously disappeared.

A few years later, a new young staff member in the Legal Division, Virginia Morris, introduced herself and asked whether I was the person who had authored the book on the International Criminal Court. When I confessed my culpability, she expressed her delight and proudly declared that she had bought the two volumes for $75—out of her own money. I liked her immediately. I thought that only my wife had read the book.

Virginia soon became the most knowledgeable person at the UN regarding the court. When the UN Security Council finally decided to set up a special Criminal Court to try those responsible for crimes against humanity committed in the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Virginia Morris was one of the first to draft the statutes for the new ad hoc tribunal. Within a matter of months, the formation of such a court was approved. I happened to be in Geneva visiting the International Law Commission when the Security Council text was faxed to them. As soon as it was received, the administrative assistant, Armella Ferrara, handed the copy to me, saying, “Here, this is your work.” I was grateful for her kind consideration and I felt richly rewarded.

I persuaded Virginia to write a book on the Yugoslavian tribunal. She did so, together with another rising star, Michael Scharf, who had resigned from the State Department. I found a publisher and wrote the introduction to the two-volume study. To my great delight, they both became prolific writers in support of international criminal courts. Michael became a Professor at Case Western Law School and a leading supporter of international criminal courts as he rapidly advanced in academia and world renown. It’s always reassuring to find a man with an open mind—particularly when he agrees with you.

After my two-volume book Enforcing International Law—A Way to World Peace was published in 1983, my good wife Gertrude suggested that I stop producing such big tomes and write something that normal human beings could understand. In fact, I regarded my previous comprehensive compendiums as my notebooks. From them, I reached the conclusion that civilized societies, of every size, were based on three foundations: clear laws to define what is permissible or impermissible; courts to interpret the laws and serve as a medium for settlements; a system of effective enforcement. Each was dependent upon the other. International law, courts, and enforcement were part of an evolving process that had not yet reached maturity. Following my good wife’s advice, I wrote A Common Sense Guide to World Peace. It was only 100 pages long and was published in 1985. I summarized the basis for my conclusions and described what had been done, what should be done, and what could be done to create a more rational and humane international system. The title was inspired by Tom Paine. I regret that he was unable to read it, having died about two hundred years ago.

George Washington wrote that without the inspiration of Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense,” the American Revolution could not have succeeded. Paine died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave located a few miles away from my home in New Rochelle. After visiting the Tom Paine Museum that was erected nearby. I discovered that, after he was disinterred, his bones were sent back to his native land of England. As far as could be ascertained, the shipment was then lost. I suspect that one day, someone will try to clean out the Left Luggage Department of the British National Railways and will find dear old Tom. His writings taught me that the true patriot is not one who says, “My country, right or wrong!” but rather, he who will support his country when it is right and have the courage to speak out when it has lost its way. There are too few men like him around today.

The Common Sense Guide was respectfully dedicated to “those leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union who will have the courage and the wisdom to overcome their fears and reconcile their differences so that all who dwell on this planet may live together in peace and dignity regardless of their race or creed.” That was the recurring theme of all of my writings since I first peered into the Hell of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The short book argued for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower, my Supreme Commander in war, and other great American statesmen and generals who recognized the imperative need for a more peaceful world order. It stressed the benefits of more caring and sharing and the need for better institutions of international governance. The book noted that it defies common sense to have a policy that makes human survival dependent upon the threat of human destruction. Reason should have rejected a world security plan based on a theory that was both genocidal and suicidal. I refused to believe that humankind could invent the means of destroying the world, yet lacked the intelligence to prevent it from happening. How to achieve the peaceful goal? Well, that required more books, and that’s another story.